Grandpa was always building things, adding onto my grandparents house, or building an apartment building. He always had a measuring tape hooked on his pants and carpentry pencil in his shirt pocket…along with a pack of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum. I was with him a lot handing him boards, nails…or just stealing his tape measure and ball cap and being a genuine pain in the butt.
When I would go home I’d take my dad’s tools and build forts in the woods. I don’t remember it but I guess irritated my dad by leaving the tools in the woods often, so for Christmas one year grandpa bought a toolbox filled with my very own tools. Real ones. Of course just to keep things balanced my grandmother bought me a basket filled with sewing supplies.
That summer grandpa cut all the pieces I would need to make about five step tools. He helped me put the first one together. I still have it. – Actually my daughter has it in her room.
Every Tuesday was Pinochle day for the Tupin club, hosted at my grandparent’s house. Card playing was a very serious activity. I could make myself seen on Pinochle day but as soon as the cards started to shuffle I was to leave the adults to their game.
On more casual nights when my grandparent’s played Pinochle with my parents I sat on grandpa’s lap and watched. He let me point to which cards I thought he should pass to his partner and which one he should lead or follow with for the tricks. At six it was still to complex a game for me to play on my own against the adults, so grandpa taught me rummy. I wanted to play rummy ALL THE TIME. It became mind numbing for grandpa and so one day he said, “I’m tired of that crap. I’m going to teach you a real game.” And that is the day I learned Cribbage.
It took me a bit to understand his counting. Fifteen-two, Fifteen-four… He didn’t quite explain that the cards added up to fifteen and that it was two points, four points, etc. But after a couple of games I only needed my grandma’s momentary help to figure out what to pass to the kitty on more complex hands, the hands that just make you want to weep a little when you have to break it up and pass good stuff to your opponent.
I memorized all the little rules like the non dealer cuts the pack, the dealer pegs two for “his heels” if a jack turns up. The non dealer counts first. And don’t forget “one for nobs”. We never played to the strict rules that if someone missed points in their hand that the other person pegged them for their own, but aside from that there wasn’t any leniency just because I was seven. I knew it for sure because the day I really kicked grandpa’s butt and double skunked him. He tensed up and his lips tightened. He was a little mad, but then I could see the pride. Buried a little behind the furry, but it was there. “Damn it I taught you too well.” he said.
“Do you want to play another one grandpa?” I asked.
“No I think I’ll take a break.” he said. “Ginny,” he called to my grandma, “she double skunked me!”
Grandpa and I played cribbage all the time. He had a collection of cribbage boards but we only used one at his house, and there was an identical one at his cabin too. Just the plain cheap board. Not the one with one they make with colored stripes over the peg holes, just the plain wood color one. There was also one he made, we used that if we couldn’t find our regular board.
I’m not one that has rows and rows or shoes in my closet, but for some reason, perhaps the importance impressed upon me of the event, I was very particular about the shoes I wanted for my first communion. I had somewhat easily found the ideal dress, but could not find the perfect looking shoes in my size. I was tall for my age and so the cutesy dainty shoes I sought just didn’t exist for my feet.
While dress hunting I also looked at the available shoes at that store. I think I found the right dress after the second or third place, but it was clear I was going to be picky about the shoes, so my grandpa took me to continue looking. He was a saint. Truly. I felt bad that it took so much time to find, but not bad enough to give up. Grandpa didn’t complain a bit. He simply took me to the next store he could think of when I didn’t find what I wanted. I honestly don’t remember how many shoes stores we went to, but if I were to look up the number of shoe stores in Anchorage Alaska around that time…he probably took me to each one that sold dress shoes for girls.
There is only a group picture of my first communion that I know of and I stood in the back row, so unfortunately I cannot show off the special shoes I finally found. I do remember that I really wanted velvety Mary Jane style black shoes with heart shapes carved out on the top and a bit of a heel.
I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents as a child. I stayed many nights at their house. My grandma would set up an old army cot at the foot of their bed for me. The cot was musty with hints of motor oil of a motor oil smell. She layered it with sheets, a soft blanket, and for extra added warmth in the winter, an itchy grey wool blanket on the very top.
Before bedtime I would watch grandpa brush his teeth. He could take his whole top row of teeth completely out of his mouth to brush. As a four-year old I was amazed by this. “How do you do that?” I asked him.
“Oh don’t worry,” he said, “you’ll be able to do it soon.” Thinking he meant it was something that required practice, I kept tugging at my teeth. He just laughed.